Let me begin by saying that I don’t understand much about music. I was in my small-town high school choir and had a total of two speaking lines in my three musicals. We had a great choral instructor, and we did well at competitions because of Mr. Mannasmith’s instruction, but I don’t know much about what goes into judging a district music competition. Today, I got a taste of music competitions and judges. It was something like eating a greasy pork sandwich that had been sitting in an ashtray and chasing it with a bottle of rat urine, neither of which there is any proof that I have tasted before. Thank goodness there was no social media when I was younger.
My oldest daughter was slated to perform her cello solo at 8:54 am. While standing in the hallway, awaiting what must be one of the most nerve-racking events of a musician’s high school experience, word quickly spread into the hallway that original music was required for all people involved in room 107: the judge, the musician, the accompanist. It was an astonished buzzing and chatter. Now, I fully understand what someone feels like when they know nothing about football and watch as fans complain about an official blowing a call. I was proud of my daughter; she was confident and said she could do it from memory even though she had not practiced it that way. And her accompanist couldn’t play because she didn’t have an original copy either, but my daughter was going to try.
We entered the classroom, and she waited for her turn. I had the camera rolling… for 15 seconds. Then she stopped and said that she couldn’t remember the rest. She stood proudly and walked to where her accompanist stood, and then she broke down in tears. From the other side of the room, I sat powerless and ignorant. Her orchestra teacher hugged her and apologized. My daughter moved out of the room as I followed. Her teacher stood, as I hurried past to get to my daughter, and explained to the room of people that her students were going to follow the rules and they weren’t going to pretend that they all had original music.
Again, I was lost and wondering, “What the heck just happened?” I hugged my daughter and tried to piece together what was going on. A senior, who had been playing in high school competitions for four years, explained that in his four years, he has never heard of a judge for orchestra requiring original copies for the judge, competitor, and accompanist. In fact, after more discussion, this appeared to be the only room with this stingy requirement. Again, I am not an expert, not even close.
I don’t understand why they just didn’t let her play and then scratch the score or downgrade it for not having all original music. These musicians spend hours upon hours practicing and preparing, sometimes hiring an accompanist. Then one judge with his own enforcement policy or perhaps his own rules (again, I don’t know), screws the kids.
Here is what I do know: a bunch of kids worked hard to prepare and someone let them down. Was it a high school orchestra director who didn’t get the right information to students? Based on the discussions with the kids and my daughter, I don’t think so. Was it a rule that hasn’t been enforced in the past that became a point of emphasis this year? Possible, but I don’t think so. Was it a judge who took the law into his own hands to make a point or to feel superior? That is where I am leaning.
If it had been a high school softball game that I was coaching, I would have definitely had a discussion with the umpire, and there may have been an ejection. But this wasn’t sports; it was district music competition. The rules are different. From what I can tell, everyone is afraid to ruffle a judge’s feathers by seeking clarifications about rules or asking questions. I can see why. An orchestral director who questions a judge could face years of revenge penalization to participants.
Sports have clearly defined rules. An umpire can pass judgement and make a call based on what they saw happen, but the rules are the rules. An umpire can’t just conjure up a rule change without coaches questioning it and a discussion between all officials and coaches to resolve the problem. In this case of original orchestra music, are the rules the rules? Or are judges with grudges making it up as they go. Either way, someone let down a bunch of high school musicians who worked hard to prepare for a performance, and then had the rug ripped out from underneath them. Judging by today, music competition can be just as violent as a tackle in football. I know my daughter was hurting after her experience at district music competition.